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Mama's Family

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Title: Mama's Family  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Thelma Harper, Dorothy Lyman, Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Series, Betty White, Ken Berry
Collection: 1980S American Comedy Television Series, 1980S American Television Series, 1983 American Television Series Debuts, 1990 American Television Series Endings, 1990S American Comedy Television Series, 1990S American Television Series, American Television Sitcoms, English-Language Television Programming, First-Run Syndicated Television Programs in the United States, Nbc Network Shows, Television Series About Dysfunctional Families, Television Series by Warner Bros. Television, Television Series Revived After Cancellation, Television Shows Set in Los Angeles, California, Television Spin-Offs
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Mama's Family

Mama's Family
Genre Sitcom
Created by Dick Clair
Jenna McMahon
Directed by Roger Beatty
Harvey Korman
Dick Martin
Dave Powers
Starring Vicki Lawrence
Ken Berry
Dorothy Lyman
Rue McClanahan
(Seasons 1–2)
Eric Brown
(Seasons 1–2)
Karin Argoud
(Seasons 1–2)
Betty White
(Seasons 1–3)
Beverly Archer
(Seasons 3–6)
Allan Kayser
(Seasons 3–6)
Theme music composer Peter Matz
Opening theme "Bless My Happy Home"
Composer(s) Peter Matz
Dick Walter
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2 (NBC run)
4 (syndicated run)
No. of episodes 35 (NBC run)
95 (syndicated run)
130 (total) (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Joe Hamilton
Producer(s) Jim Evering
Neil Lebowitz
Dave Powers
Fred Rubin
Location(s) CBS Television City
Hollywood, California (1982-1984)
Metromedia Square
Hollywood, California (1986-1990)
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 24–25 minutes (NBC episodes)
21–22 minutes (syndicated episodes)
Production company(s) Joe Hamilton Productions
Distributor Lorimar-Telepictures
Warner Bros. Television Distribution (1989–1996, 2003-present)
Telepictures Distribution (1996–2003)
Original channel NBC (1983–1984)
Syndicated (1986-1990)
Audio format Mono
Original release January 22, 1983 (1983-01-22) - April 7, 1984 (1984-04-07)
September 27, 1986 (1986-09-27) – February 24, 1990 (1990-02-24)
Preceded by Eunice

Mama's Family is an American television sitcom starring Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper (Mama). The series is a spin-off of a recurring series of comedy sketches on The Carol Burnett Show (1974–78) and Carol Burnett & Company (1979) called The Family. That led to the made-for-TV movie, Eunice, and finally the television series.

The show's theme song is "Bless My Happy Home" by Peter Matz (music) and Vicki Lawrence (lyrics). The show's producers chose to use an instrumental version.[1]

Mama's Family originally aired on [2] NBC broadcast reruns until September 1985.

Two years after its cancellation, original series producer Joe Hamilton Productions (JHP) decided to follow a lead that several other programs at the time had set and revive Mama's Family for first-run syndication on local stations across the United States. The revived series, produced by JHP and distributed by Lorimar-Telepictures, premiered on September 27, 1986.[3][4] The syndicated version garnered substantially higher ratings than did its network version, eventually becoming the highest rated sitcom in first-run syndication. Its four season-run ended on February 24, 1990.


  • Overview 1
  • First life of the sitcom (seasons 1 and 2) 2
    • Beginning the series 2.1
    • Plot details 2.2
    • Opening theme discrepancies 2.3
    • Cancellation 2.4
  • Second life of the sitcom (seasons 3-6) 3
    • Series rebirth 3.1
    • Plot details 3.2
    • Absence of Carol Burnett as the "Eunice" character 3.3
    • Series end 3.4
  • Cast and characters 4
    • Thelma Mae Crowley Harper (Mama) 4.1
      • Role 4.1.1
      • Appearance 4.1.2
      • Persona evolution 4.1.3
      • Vicki Lawrence on evolution of Mama 4.1.4
    • Family members and friends 4.2
  • Harper family tree 5
  • Recurring characters 6
  • Episodes 7
    • Total count 7.1
    • Favorites of Vicki Lawrence 7.2
  • Ratings 8
  • DVD releases 9
  • Syndication 10
  • Post-television show appearances of Thelma Harper/Mama 11
  • References 12
  • Bibliography 13
  • External links 14


The show, set in the city of Raytown,[5] revolves around the wacky misadventures of the Harper family, extended non-Harper family members, and their neighbor friend in later seasons. Always at the center of the trouble and confusion is head of the clan and matriarch Thelma Harper—a buxom, blue-haired, purse-lipped, 65-year-old widow, who is portrayed as explosively quick-tempered, abrasive, brash, smart alecky, and full of snappy retorts.[6] Thelma's snappy retorts and fretful wisecracks are particularly highlighted with a running gag in which the final scenes of each episode cut to an exterior shot of her house. While the exterior of Thelma's house displays, she's heard riposting the comments of whoever has previously spoken. This is then followed by audience laughter and applause. In spite of the many digs and fretful wisecracks that Mama regularly and casually makes about her family, she is nurturing and obliging at heart. She allows her various family members to live in her home, who would otherwise have no place to live.[6] Beyond providing her resident family members shelter, Thelma routinely cooks for and cleans up after them as well. Despite her nurturance, Thelma's various family members can be ingrates, even banding together and ganging up on Thelma on occasion.

First life of the sitcom (seasons 1 and 2)

Cast of the first life of Mama's Family (left to right in ascending order): Vinton, Naomi, Ed (recurring character), Ellen (recurring), Fran, Sonja, Thelma, and Buzz

Beginning the series

Lawrence originally turned down the offer of starring as Mama in her own television series, having misgivings about playing the role without Harvey Korman (who played Mama's son-in-law, Ed Higgins) and Carol Burnett (who played Mama's daughter Eunice Higgins) constantly by her side as was previously the case in The Family sketches. Burnett and Korman told Lawrence that they'd only appear as guest stars on the series, and that it was Lawrence's time to shine and take what she had learned off The Carol Burnett Show and make it on her own. Shortly after the highly rated Eunice TV movie and continued urgings by Korman and Burnett, Lawrence finally changed her mind and accepted the offer for her character's own sitcom.[7]

Lawrence also had a great deal of creative input and made many important decisions, including bringing in Korman to co-direct the series. Regarding the writing, Lawrence had objections to the original script of the episode "Mama Cries Uncle", in which Thelma's brother-in-law comes to visit and the two are supposed to have wound up sleeping together:

Plot details

For one and a half seasons from 1983 through 1984, Mama's Family ran on NBC. In the series' first episode, Thelma Harper lives with her uptight spinster sister Fran (Rue McClanahan), a journalist for a local paper. Thelma's son, Vinton (whose wife, Mitzi, had left him to become a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas, Nevada), stops by to inform Thelma that he and his two children, Sonja and Buzz, have been evicted from their home and need a place to stay. Much to Fran's chagrin, Thelma allows Vint, Sonja and Buzz to move in.

During the first season, Vinton forged a relationship with the Harpers' flirtatious next-door neighbor, Naomi Oates (whom Thelma had a distaste for), and soon married her. After selling her house and losing the money in a bad business deal, Naomi and Vint are forced to move into Thelma's basement, where they remain for most of the show's run. Also seen on a recurring basis were Thelma's two daughters: the snobbish Ellen (Betty White) and the ornery Eunice (Carol Burnett). Harvey Korman, who directed many of the earlier episodes, made featured appearances as Eunice's husband, Ed Higgins. (During the eleventh and final season of The Carol Burnett Show [1977], the Ed Higgins character was written out of The Family skits, having left Eunice).

Opening theme discrepancies

Korman also appeared at the beginning of each episode as the stuffed shirt Alistair Quince (an obvious parody of Alistair Cooke), who would soberly introduce the program in the style of Masterpiece Theatre. These monologues were cut out of the later syndicated reruns and the subsequent DVD release of the first season.[9] Korman also performed the voice of Thelma's unseen late husband, Carl, in flashback episodes.

Moreover, an extended version of the show's opening theme song—which was never used in reruns or subsequent DVD releases—was also used when the series was in its original run on the NBC network. The extension in the theme song was simple added repetition of melodies already used in the shortened version.

In the opening credits, the house/neighborhood are different as between A.) the original run of seasons 1 and 2 on NBC, and B.) the subsequent reruns and DVD releases of seasons 1 and 2. The reruns and first DVD release for season 1 have been designed so that the house/neighborhood match the house/neighborhood used for the show's second life (seasons 3—6). This adjustment has, however, created a noted discrepancy: there are episodes in the first life of the series depicting Mama as living in the house/neighborhood as shown in the original opening theme used for the first life of the program. The episode "Mama for Mayor" is an example as it displays Mama in front of the house used in the original opening theme used for seasons 1 and 2.

The opening theme used for the second life and reruns and the first DVD release of the show's first life are only distinguishable by the coloring of the "Mama's Family" title and the main cast photos. The first life uses pink while the second life uses an amber hue.

In 2013, StarVista Entertainment released the original run of seasons 1 and 2 on NBC with the Alistair Quince intro and original opening credits intact except for 2 of episodes in Season 1 ("Cellmates" and "Mama's Boyfriend") as those episodes are lost and was replaced by the syndicated version in the re-release.


While not a huge ratings success, the first season garnered solid enough numbers to justify being renewed for a second season.[10] For instance, the premiere episode finished among the Top 30 programs for the week, ranking at #28 with an 18.6/28 rating/share. However, during the second season, the show dropped out of the Top 50 shows in the seasonal ratings due to it failing to compete with CBS's Top 10 hit Magnum, P.I. NBC canceled the series in May 1984, due to the disappointing ratings for the second season.

Second life of the sitcom (seasons 3-6)

Cast of the second life of Mama's Family (clockwise from center left): Iola, Bubba, Vinton, Naomi, and Mama.

Series rebirth

After Mama's Family was cancelled by NBC in 1984, it was later relaunched in first-run syndication in 1986. Lorimar merged with Telepictures and were looking for projects for first-run syndication. The 35 episodes of the first two seasons were put into summer reruns and, after seeing their ratings and how extraordinary they were, Lorimar-Telepictures decided that Mama's Family needed a second chance and ordered 100 episodes for syndication.[11][12]

Plot details

Minor adjustments in the show's set design and color scheme, and major adjustments in the show's cast had occurred by the show's revival, with only Vicki Lawrence (Thelma), Ken Berry (Vinton), and Dorothy Lyman (Naomi) returning as regulars from the first life of the sitcom. Vinton's kids from his first marriage, Buzz (played by Eric Brown) and Sonja (played by Karin Argoud), who were regulars in the show's first life, did not reprise their roles for the show's revival; their characters, though mentioned briefly in the first episode of the show's syndicated life, were never to be spoken of again.

During the hiatus of the series, both Rue McClanahan (Aunt Fran) and Betty White (Ellen Jackson) had both gone on to star in the NBC sitcom The Golden Girls, rendering them unavailable to return. White, however, did return as Ellen for one episode in 1986 while Fran was killed off in the first episode of season three, having choked to death on a toothpick at the local bar, the Bigger Jigger. Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman, meanwhile, did not reprise their roles either, resulting in their characters (Eunice and Ed Higgins) being written out as having moved to Florida.

To fill the void, Allan Kayser was cast as Thelma's delinquent teenaged grandson Bubba Higgins. Bubba was the son of Ed and Eunice Higgins, the previously unseen character from The Family sketches and initial Mama's Family episodes. Bubba was ordered to live with the Harpers after being released from juvenile hall and placed on probation. Also added to the cast was Beverly Archer, who played the new character of Iola Boylan, the family's prissy neighbor and Mama's best friend. Her catchphrase was calling out "Knock, knock!" in place of ringing the doorbell.

The second life of the show saw far less bickering than its first life and particularly The Family sketches. The Naomi and Vinton characters became far less assertive and more dimwitted, and Mama was represented as more overpowering throughout the show's second life. A recurring theme throughout the fifth season was Naomi's desire to become a mother. Following through with this, the penultimate season concluded with Naomi's announcement that she was pregnant. Preparation for the baby became a central theme of the sixth and final season.

Absence of Carol Burnett as the "Eunice" character

According to Lawrence's autobiography, Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, Burnett resented Lawrence for accepting the role of Mama for first-run syndication. It was during this time that Burnett was involved in an acrimonious divorce with The Carol Burnett Show and Mama's Family producer Joe Hamilton.[13] Burnett felt Lawrence had been disloyal to her and held a grudge against her up until Hamilton's death in 1991. By the time of Hamilton's death, she spoke to Lawrence again and agreed to let bygones be bygones. Lawrence's autobiography reads:

Series end

After Mama's Family was picked up in first-run syndication, ratings for the series improved. It became the highest rated first-run program in syndication.[15] Despite the show's success, Lawrence did not sign on for further seasons after completing her four season contract in first-run syndication. According to Ken Berry (who played Mama's son, Vinton Harper), Lawrence had seemingly tired of playing the "Mama" role by 1990 and wanted to end the show.[16] According to Lawrence, who would reprise the Mama role on stage for many years thereafter, the series ended because the series had reached the standard threshold of 100 episodes and no longer needed to produce any more.[17] The series finale featured Naomi giving birth to a baby girl, who was named Tiffany Thelma.

Cast and characters

Thelma Mae Crowley Harper (Mama)


Thelma Harper, also known as Mama, is the title character/main character of Mama's Family. Despite the title of "Mama," few characters in the sitcom actually refer to Thelma as Mama. In fact, Vinton is the only supporting character in the series to refer to Thelma as Mama (though recurring characters Eunice and Ellen also refer to Thelma as Mama). In actuality, Thelma plays miscellaneous roles in the series, including grandmother, mother-in-law, sister, neighbor friend, and mother dependent on the supporting character in question.

Thelma is the widowed matriarch of a rural, Southern family.[18] She is a country elderly woman in her mid-to-late 60s, who speaks in a southern drawl.[6] Always active in the housework and nurturance of her family, Mama is usually seen cooking, cleaning, and providing loving support to her family.


Mama's appearance is based on that of a stereotypical elderly woman. She is a buxom, purse-lipped widow with silvery blue curls. All of her daytime outfits were short-sleeved, floral-print dresses that carried lace collars. As much of Mama's time was spent cooking and cleaning, her dresses were often worn with an overlapping apron. Mama's lower legs were always clasped by visible support hose (a feature that was nonexistent during The Family sketches and the Eunice movie).[19] For footwear, Mama invariably wore white, orthopedic shoes of a high heeled brogue style.[20]

Mama invariably wore a few fashion accessories: a white pearl necklace and white pearl earrings.

Mama's outerwear always consisted of the same purple sweater, worn casually, draped over her shoulders without arms in the sleeves; inconstant floral headpieces; and a white purse, which she didn't hesitate to use as a weapon when given the opportunity.

Persona evolution

In contrast to her more stereotypically elderly, dependent, invariably spiteful and cantankerous character on The Family skits, Mama's hostilities are significantly toned down by the sitcom's first life. Though still cantankerous in the sitcom's first life, Mama's character expanded with wisecracks and humor; pesky antics; unseemliness and naiveness. Mama's unseemliness and naiveness were exampled in her inability to drive (episode "Mama Learns to Drive"); inability to act in socially acceptable ways out in public and in the presence of guests (episodes "The Mama Who Came to Dinner" and "Ellen's Boyfriend"); inability to work jobs outside of the home (episodes "Mama Gets a Job" and "Mama for Mayor"); etc. These characteristics often resulted in the humiliation or frustration of her loved ones.

By the show's second life, Mama was no longer naive (rather, Vinton overwhelmingly assumed this role) and far more capable of high spirits than ever before. This version of Mama had the least amount of stereotypically elderly traits. Rather conversely, Mama was dutiful in caring for her home, garden and family; independent; and active in the community along with best friend Iola Boylan. For example, Mama returned to high school and graduated (episodes "Educating Mama" and "Pomp and Circumstance"); Mama was heavily involved in the Church Ladies League and at one point, its president (episode "Where There's Smoke"); Mama participated in dirty dancing (episode "Very Dirty Dancing"); Mama went on a trip (episode "Mama Goes Hawaiian"), etc. Highlighting her much more relaxed nature during the syndicated seasons, Mama's main character trait during this time was her many fretful wisecracks typically made in high-pitched, whiny vocal qualities. Still and all, Mama could also be very rough, abrasive and brash in manner; volatile and explosive in temper; and smart-mouthed with a proneness for making snappy retorts.[6]

Unlike the precedent sketch comedy and television movie, Thelma had many locutions on the program, "Good Lord!" being her most frequently used. She occasionally stated this in alternate ways, such as "Good Lord in heaven!" "Good heavens!" or "Good night Louise!" Among some of Thelma's additional locutions on the series include: "Hell's bells!" "The hell you say," "Now hear this," "God-awful," "In a pig's eye!" "Shoot!" "For crying out loud!" "For heaven's sake!" "Real good!" (sarcastically) etc. Disparaging and impudent, Thelma had a series of name-calling catchphrases she often used to refer to certain members of her family or her family as a whole, such as "Nitwit," "Dimwit," "Goon," "Goober goon," "Lamebrain," "Dunce," "Tramp," "Floozy," etc.

Vicki Lawrence on evolution of Mama

Vicki Lawrence has stated that at the beginning of Mama's Family, she detected that the writers had made adjustments to her character from The Family skits, significantly toning down Mama's hostilities and nastiness. Lawrence originally disfavored Mama's change in character from The Family sketches to the series version, believing that toning down the character's then familiar aggressions and spite in exchange for a less difficult, more agreeable nature, capable of humor and high spirits wasn't funny.

Lawrence has revealed, however, that after counsel that the character needed to be reshaped for sitcom television from Harvey Korman, she came to accept the adjustments made to "Mama." Korman informed Lawrence that Mama had to be less one-dimensionally hostile since the entire show would revolve around her—that more characteristics would need to be added into the mix. Korman also informed her that you can't expect people to come home from work, pop a beer, and put up their feet to a character that's so one-dimensional. He informed her that the character would have to be more than just disagreeable for a whole half hour otherwise viewers would get bored. According to Korman, silly elements would need to be added to the character.

Lawrence has stated that it took her awhile to warm up to this, but that she later came to greatly appreciate how Mama "blossomed" and "matured" from her early years on The Family. She added that she still favors the adjustments in Mama's character and has credited who Thelma Harper is today partly to Korman. The Family sketch writers, however, who based The Family characters on their real-life family members, disfavored the less aggressive Mama. In February 2013, Lawrence remarked that The Family sketch version of Mama was created by writers who hated their mothers.[2][21][22]

Family members and friends

See also List of Mama's Family characters
Character Actor Years character rank Description
Vinton Harper Ken Berry 1983–1984
Supporting character The youngest of Thelma's three children. Dopey, buffoonish, and accident prone, Vint regularly makes a fool out of himself, particularly when he attempts to be assertive or knowledgeable.[6] Works at Kwik Keys as a locksmith. A recurring theme saw Vinton dressed in a white dress shirt and tan dress pants.
Naomi Oates Harper Dorothy Lyman 1983–1984
Supporting character Vinton's lascivious, demonstrative, and maritally flirtatious second wife, who is often at odds with Thelma over his loyalty, also in part for her salaciousness.[6] Naomi works as a checker (later becoming the assistant manager) at Food Circus, a local supermarket. Vinton's nickname for her is "Skeeter" while Mama's nickname for her is "tramp." While Naomi had straight hair in the first life of the sitcom, she had curls by the show's second life. A recurring theme during the show's second life saw Naomi garbed in yellow-colored, strapless dresses, which Thelma often referred to as "gaudy."
Vinton "Buzz" Harper, Jr. Eric Brown 1983–1984 Supporting character Vint's teenage son with his first wife, Mitzi. Buzz is very cheerful, spirited, patient, and obliging.
Sonja Harper Karin Argoud 1983–1984 Supporting character Vint's teenage daughter with his first wife, Mitzi. Sonja starts out moody, whiny, lazy, and rather oblivious, but later becomes interested in boys and blossoms into a young lady interested in civic affairs. Like her brother, she later moved out, presumably going off to college. She was also crowned Miss Rayteen 1984 during the second season of the show's run.
Ellen Harper-Jackson Betty White 1983–1984
Recurring character The eldest of Thelma's three children. Ellen is a pretentious social elitist, who often avoids fraternizing with the rest of the family, unless it suits her purpose. Her birthday is June 30.
Eunice Harper Higgins Carol Burnett 1983–1984 Recurring character The second of Thelma's three children. Seemingly never changing her outfit and always layered in tattered, raggedy green rags, Eunice is extremely tempestuous, antagonistic, and quarrelsome, constantly bickering with everyone in the family (especially her mother). Her birthday is December 19.
Ed Higgins Harvey Korman 1983–1984 Recurring character Eunice's mild mannered, browbeaten husband. The Ed character was toned down from his appearances in The Family sketches, formerly a fiercely ill-tempered man that had no qualms with regularly quarreling with his mother-in-law and Eunice, at one point even permanently up and leaving Eunice. In Mama's Family, however, the two remained married.
Bubba Higgins Allan Kayser 1986–1990 Supporting character Ed and Eunice's teenage son who is forced to live with Thelma upon being released from juvenile hall, after his parents had moved to Florida. Although initially depicted as a frisky, hyperactive, and eccentric teen with a penchant for playing instruments along with friends Dwayne and T-Boy, he over time evolved into a calm, mature, and commonsensical teen, though still with a robust interest in the opposite sex. The character always wore extremely tight-fitting jeans and in the early going suspenders as well. This later progressed into tight-fitting jeans and conservative sweatshirts.[6]
Frances Marie Crowley Rue McClanahan 1983–1984 Supporting character Thelma's younger, uptight spinster sister. Works as a newspaper reporter and free-lance writer. She later died by choking on a toothpick at the Bigger Jigger.
Iola Lucille Boylan Beverly Archer 1986–1990 Supporting character The Harpers’ well-meaning but obnoxious, chipper, quirky, and prissy neighbor. Among her quirks, she constantly bestows the family with peculiar handicraft items, predominately wears pink, and calls "knock knock" upon her every entrance. During her first appearances on the show, a running gag existed that saw her having loopy temper tantrums at odd intervals, described as "spells". She lives with her overbearing and aging parents, whom she seeks to escape by spending as much time at Thelma's home as possible. Iola is best friends with Thelma and secretly infatuated with Vint, which causes her and Naomi to have a rather adversarial relationship.

Harper family tree

Grandma Crowley*
unknown parents
Frances Crowley
Thelma Crowley
Carl Harper
Effie Harper Roy Harper
Bruce Jackson (div.)
Ellen Harper
Eunice Harper
Ed Higgins
Vinton Harper
Naomi Oates
Leonard Oates (div.)
Mitzi (div.)
Bubba Higgins
Tiffany Thelma Harper
Sonja Harper
Vinton "Buzz" Harper, Jr.
  • Magenta = Crowleys
  • Orange = Harpers
  • Blue = Harper children
  • Red = Harper in-laws
  • Green = Harper grandchildren

*Note: Thelma's mother was shown on two occasions on the show (once in a flashback and once as a ghost, played both times by Vicki Lawrence), but her name was never revealed. There were at least two Crowley brothers (mentioned in passing in "Mama with the Golden Arm"); one was named Clyde ("Pomp and Consequences"). An Uncle Oscar is mentioned in "Mama Gets the Bird", but it is not known if he was from Thelma's side of the family or her husband Carl's.

Recurring characters

  • Carl Harper, a predominately unseen character (although once played by Ken Berry in a flashback episode), he is the deceased husband of Mama and father of Ellen, Eunice, and Vinton. While he's occasionally made mention of especially by Thelma, he only appears in flashback episodes. Though even in flashbacks, he's unseen for the most part, as he's usually only portrayed in voice as a man who spent the vast majority of his life nested on the toilet in the bathroom with the door closed. In fact, Carl died on the toilet. He's characterized as a grouch who screams from the bathroom about how he doesn't want to be interrupted during his long hours on the toilet, even for emergencies.
  • Effie Crowley Harper, Thelma's cousin (in season 2) and later her sister-in-law (in season 4). She lives in nearby Ceciltown on a farm. Played by Dorothy Van.
  • Alberta Meechum, Reverend Meechum's stuck-up, catty wife and a perennial thorn in the side of Thelma Harper. Played by Anne Haney.
  • Eddie Edwards, a TV personality in Raytown, who hosts such programs as Good Morning, Raytown and the Grandma USA pageant. Played by Wayne Morton.
  • Clive Montaigne, the head of the community theater, who fashions himself an actor just as important as actors in New York and London. The people in town treat him like a mini-celebrity, despite only running the community theater. Played by Rod McCary.
  • Luann Fayette, Naomi Harper's flamboyant and flirtatious best friend. Played by Jennifer Richards. More spoken of than ever seen.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Boylan, Iola's elderly, predominately unseen parents, who live across the street from Thelma. Not much is mentioned of her father, while her mother is often alluded to as a grotesquely large, temperamental, T.V.-watching invalid. The two characters are largely unseen; however, Mama once called out a greeting to an elderly woman, living next to her, she referred to as "Mrs. Boylan." This was a brief moment from the episode "Mama Learns To Drive," from the show's first life (season 2), prior to the appearances of Iola.
  • Roselle Huplander, an obese associate of Thelma and Iola. On rare occasions, Thelma has spoken to her over the phone. But more often, she is gossiped about by Thelma and Iola. Once, at a church fair, she gave Vint a black eye when he suggested that she weighed 309 pounds at the "Guess Your Weight" booth he was running.
  • Dwayne and T-Boy, Bubba's best friends. Played by Beau Bishop and Grant Heslov respectively. More spoken of than ever seen.
  • Mr. Alan Hanson, an intelligent, laid-back night-school teacher of Thelma and Bubba, and love interest of Thelma Harper. Her relationship with him is unceremoniously discontinued in the series however. Played by Joseph Campanella.
  • Amy Johnson, girlfriend of Bubba Higgins. Played by Amy Benedict.
  • Lolly Purdue, member and later president (succeeding Thelma) of the Church Ladies League. Revealed to be illiterate. Played first by Doris Hess, then Marge Redmond.
  • Officer Sneed, an extremely youthful-looking, strange police officer. Played by Allan David Fox.
  • Claude Cainmaker, Vint's seedy friend, who is always thinking up schemes. Played by Geoffrey Lewis.
  • Alistair Quince, The erudite host that introduced Mama's Family during the first and second seasons. The character was a take off of Alistair Cooke who at the time introduced Masterpiece Theater each week on PBS. These intros were edited out when the show went into syndication but have been restored in the DVDs released by StarVista/Time Life. The character first appeared as Alistair Cookie on The Carol Burnett Show.[23] Played by Harvey Korman.
  • Grandma Crowley (played by Vicki Lawrence), Thelma's dearly departed mother, who only appeared in flashback sequences or by photo. She had a dismal, forbidding appearance, constantly grimacing and wearing nothing but dark, somber dresses. She first appeared in the first life of the show (episode "Mama's Birthday") as a buxom elderly woman with a surly nature. In this appearance, she spoke to a middle-aged Thelma over the phone. The conversation ended with Grandma Crowley hanging up on Thelma, following Thelma's resentful protests against Grandma Crowley's contemptuous remarks about her husband, Carl. Grandma Crowley's second appearance was in the show's second life (episode "My Mama, Myself"). In this appearance, Grandma Crowley appeared as a slender ghost, haunting Mama. Taking on a menacing, overbearing, and harassing nature, she spent the entirety of the episode relentlessly criticizing, insulting, and ordering Thelma around. On more than one episode of the show's second life, Thelma alluded to having to possess forbearance in dealing with her mother's harassingly censorious nature growing up. For example, in the episode "Mama Makes Three," Thelma visited a psychiatrist with Vinton and Naomi. During the session, she began ranting and raving about her childhood and her mother, even referring to Grandma Crowley as a "prune-face old harpy." Vinton has also described Grandma Crowley as being "mean" in her treatment of him, Eunice, and Ellen when they were all children.
  • Church Ladies League, also known as CLL. Their motto is: "Gentle Helpers; Kind and Good" and First Lady Alberta Meechum served as the first president. Members include Thelma Harper, Lolly Purdue, Iola Boylan, Roselle Huplander, Inez and Florence. The association was first mentioned in "Where's There's Smoke", when Mama was nominated for president of the Church Ladies League. It was mentioned later in the episodes "Reading the Riot Act", "Ladies Choice" and "Mama's Medicine Show". Their award bears the name "Church Ladies League Woman of the Year."


Total count

Altogether, Mama's Family had six seasons (more specifically five and a half) that consisted of 130 episodes. The show's first life consisted of thirty-five episodes, making for one and a half seasons. The show's second life consisted of ninety-five episodes, making for four full seasons.

Favorites of Vicki Lawrence

On September 30, 2013, Vicki Lawrence was asked what her favorite episodes of the series are:

  • Lawrence answered that between the early seasons, her favorite is the episode "The Wedding (Part 2)." Her reason for favoring this episode is because of the combination of big names featured in it. She listed Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Betty White, Ken Berry and Dorothy Lyman. Admiring the episode, Lawrence remarked "How much help does one girl get?" and "It's just an amazing supporting cast. Dear God, Carol was funny in that show!"[21]
  • Lawrence has stated that another favorite of hers from the early seasons is the episode "Rashomama." Lawrence revealed that "Rashomama" is a takeoff of the Japanese film "Rashomon." She explained that the episode is about Mama getting hit with a kettle in the kitchen and its her, Betty, Dorothy, and Carol. At the emergency room, the three of them each have a different version of what happened to Mama. Lawrence explained, ". . . we redo the scene three different ways, and it's pretty funny."[21]
  • As other episode favorites, Lawrence has named "Family Feud" and "Mama on Jeopardy!" Lawrence stated to loving this dysfunctional family getting sent out into the real world. In particular, she stated to loving this when game shows were involved because ". . . people know the format of these shows so perfectly, and to watch this crazy family get stuck in that format was really fun to me. Probably because I also love game shows so much." [21]
  • As another episode favorite, Lawrence named "The Love Letter." Stated Lawrence, "It was a great episode, a record-holder actually. I think Bubba writes a love letter for Vint, who is having some problems with Naomi. In the course of the 22 minute episode, everybody thinks that the love letter is meant for them. Mama thinks it is for her from the repair guy who is there. Iola is sure Vint has written it to her. The show actually ran 22 minutes with no costume changes or anything. I remember the night that we did it. We did it in 22 minutes and were out at 7:25, and our director said 'good night, you're done!'" Lawrence added "Honestly, I have to say, by the time we finished the show, we had it down to a four day workweek, so I kind of felt like we got paid to play dress up really."[21]


  • Season 1: #22
  • Season 2: #59

DVD releases

DVD Cover Art
DVD information
Mama's Family—The Complete First Season

On September 26, 2006, Warner Bros. Television released season 1 of Mama's Family on DVD. The DVD release features the syndicated versions of the episodes, which edits roughly three minutes from what originally aired. Warner Bros. claimed to only own the rights to the syndicated form.[24]

Due to issues relating to ownership rights between the show's production companies, Mama's Family for a long time had difficulties coming out on DVD, with only its first season available for many years.

However, in May 2013, it was announced that StarVista Entertainment will release all 6 seasons of the sitcom to DVD. They will be releasing a complete series box set, which will be released the week of September 2 and is available only through the StarVista website, and each season periodically in retail stores. Most of the original unedited versions, dubbed "The Joe Hamilton Cuts," will be presented on DVD. Season 1 will be re-released as part of the collection as well. Included with the package will be extras of over 10 hours of bonus material, as well as a new cast reunion with Vicki Lawrence and the show's syndicated cast members. In addition, StarVista is selling a "Signature" collection of the entire series, autographed by Vicki Lawrence. It is limited to 500 copies.[25]

In fall 2013, Star Vista began releasing individual season sets, all 6 seasons have been released. Seasons 1 & 2 were released on September 10, 2013,[26] followed by season 3 on February 25, 2014.[27] Season 4 was released on June 24, 2014,[28] Season 5 on September 23, 2014[29] and the sixth and final Season was released on February 10, 2015.[30]

Release Ep # DVD release date Bonus features
The Complete 1st Season 13 September 26, 2006
(re-released September 10, 2013)
Featurette: Mama's Family Tree: The Branches (All About Eunice and Ellen)

Family History: A Classic "Family" Sketch from The Carol Burnett Show, featuring Betty White

The Complete 2nd Season 22 September 10, 2013
The original TV movie Eunice

Featurette: Mama's Family Tree: The Roots (all about Mama and Fran)
Interviews: Vicki Lawrence interviews Mama; Vicki Lawrence and Carol Burnett; Betty White

The Complete 3rd Season 25 February 25, 2014
Family History: A Classic "Family" Sketch from The Carol Burnett Show, featuring Maggie Smith

Featurette: Mama's Family Tree: The Sprouts (All about Bubba)
Mama Knows Best: A Mama's Family Cast Reunion
Interview: Allan Kayser (Bubba)

The Complete 4th Season 25 June 24, 2014
Featurette: Mama's Family Tree: The Neighbors (All about Iola)

Interview: Beverly Archer (Iola Boylen)
Under One Roof: A Mama's Family Cast Reunion

The Complete 5th Season 25 September 23, 2014 Interviews:

Vicki Lawrence
Dorothy Lyman
Ken Berry
Rick Hawkins

The Complete 6th Season 20 February 10, 2015 Interviews:

Jim Evering
Manny Basanese
Vicki Lawrence and Rick Hawkins
Bob Mackie and Ret Turner

The Complete Series 130 September 10, 2013
(online exclusive)
September 23, 2014
(retail release)


After the series finale in 1990, Mama's Family ran on TBS from 1997 until August 2006.[31]

That same month, ION Television (formerly the PAX network) began airing reruns of the series. The show aired Monday through Wednesday at 8:00 to 9:00 pm from 2006 to 2008. ET.[31]

In December 2006, CMT began re-airing the series.[32]

On September 19, 2015, during a live appearance on the EVINE Live shopping channel, Vicki Lawrence announced that the show will begin airing on the Me-TV Network in early 2016.

Post-television show appearances of Thelma Harper/Mama

Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper, 2009
  • Vicki Lawrence has been reprising her role of Mama in her non-televised touring stage show, entitled Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show. In the show, Lawrence first performs stand-up comedy as herself, then comes out in character as Mama, giving her opinions on modern-day topics. During the break between the two acts, the audience is shown bloopers from the syndicated seasons of the series. Lawrence also sings the lyrics she wrote for "Bless My Happy Home", the show's theme song, which were omitted from the version used on-air.
  • Lawrence has also appeared in her Mama role on several Halloween-themed episodes of the 1998-2004 run of Hollywood Squares with Tom Bergeron at the helm.
  • Lawrence appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race in the All-Stars season as Mama in the skit "RuPaul’s Gaff-In."
  • Most recently, Vicki Lawrence appeared on The Queen Latifah Show as Mama the Monday after Mother's Day 2014 in a comical skit that aired prior to each commercial break. Lawrence would also appear on the show 8 days later alongside two other well-known actresses to speak about her role of Mama and on her personal life.


  1. ^ "Interesting facts about Vicki Lawrence". Retrieved 2013-03-09. 
  2. ^ a b "Mama's Family (Vicki Lawrence Interview)". Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  3. ^ "Vicki Lawrence on the comedy legacy of "Mama's Family," now on DVD". Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  4. ^ "Seven Questions with Vicki Lawrence of Mama's Family; Charmed Coming to Lifetime to Compliment Witches of East End, Project Runway All-Stars with Alyssa Milano - News Blog". Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  5. ^ Brooks, Marla (2005). The American Family on Television: A Chronology of 121 shows, 1948-2004. McFarland & Co. p. 141.  
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Vicki Lawrence Reflects on 'Mama's Family' Legacy and Reveals Her Favorite Episodes (Q&A)". The Hollywood Reporter. 2013-06-09. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  7. ^ "Vicki Lawrence Interview | Archive of American Television". Retrieved 2013-03-09. 
  8. ^ "Vicki Lawrence". Archive of American Television. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (9 ed.). Random House Digital, Inc. p. 843.  
  10. ^ Lewis, Dan (1983-04-23). "'"A shaky reunion for 'Mama's Family. Merced Sun-Star. p. 12. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  11. ^ "Vicki Lawrence". Archive of American Television. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  12. ^ Lyman, Dorothy. Mama Knows Best: A Mama's Family Cast Reunion. Interview with Mama's Family The Complete 4th Season DVD. Mama's Family The Complete 4th Season DVD. 
  13. ^ "Humor Helps Carol Burnett Cope - ABC News". Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  14. ^ Lawrence, Vicki; Eliot, Marc (1995). Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures Of Miss Fireball. Simon & Schuster. p. 164.  
  15. ^ Mama's Family' hits top in field in sitcom"'". Eugene Register-Guard. 1987-07-19. p. 8E. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  16. ^ "Mama's Family". Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  17. ^ "Mama's Family (Vicki Lawrence Interview)". Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  18. ^ TVtherapy: The Television Guide to Life - Beverly West, Jason Bergund - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-03-09. 
  19. ^ Funny Ladies - Michael Karol - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-03-09. 
  20. ^ Indianapolis Monthly - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-03-09. 
  21. ^ a b c d e Pavan -- (2013-09-30). "Seven Questions with Vicki Lawrence of Mama's Family; Charmed Coming to Lifetime to Compliment Witches of East End, Project Runway All-Stars with Alyssa Milano - News Blog". Retrieved 2013-10-04. 
  22. ^ "Comedian Vicki Lawrence talks about life with Mama - Theater & art". The Boston Globe. 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2013-02-27. 
  23. ^ YouTube. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  24. ^ "Chat transcripts with Warner Home Video TV and Animation". Retrieved 2007-10-18. 
  25. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: DVD Plans for Mama's Family". 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  26. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Press Release for The Complete 1st Season and The Complete 2nd Season -". Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  27. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Release Date for Mama's Family - The Complete 3rd Season -". Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  28. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Press Release for Mama's Family - The Complete 4th Season -". Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  29. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Release Date for The Complete 5th Season and The Complete Collection -". Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  30. ^ "Mama's Family DVD news: Press Release for Mama's Family - The Complete 6th Season -". Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  31. ^ a b ScheduleMama's
  32. ^ "CMT's PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHTS FOR 12/25-12/31". 2006-12-25. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 


  • Mama for President: Good Lord, Why Not?, by Thelma Harper, as told to Vicki Lawrence and Monty Aidem, Thomas Nelson, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4016-0409-7
  • "Mama's Family": The Unofficial Episode Viewing Guide, by Andrew Whitenack, ANDDAR Publications, 2011. ISBN 1466292105

External links

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